Love it or loathe it, mobile phone photography is entrenched in our modern media culture. But it’s facile to lump this ever-growing phenomenon under a single umbrella, encompassing as it does everything from hipsters’ obsession with Instagramming their burgers to the vital role of smartphone-wielding citizen journalists in conflicts around the world. In recognition of the increasing importance of mobile phone photography and the numerous narratives intertwined with it, the British Journal of Photography has launched fltr, which bills itself as “the only magazine dedicated to mobile photographers.”
The weekly app is an incredibly interesting (and I would argue important) addition to contemporary art and design coverage, so we had a chat with editor Tom Seymour…
Why did you decide to launch fltr?
Because photography changed and arts journalism didn’t change with it. We’re living in a new era of civic photojournalism – around 900 billion photos will be taken throughout this year – but photography magazines are still doggedly servicing a small elite of professional photographers, most of whom are suspicious and dismissive of mobile photography.
Mobile photography is changing the culture of news from the bottom up. Look at how the Ferguson protests spawned hashtags like #DontShoot and #IfTheyGunnedMeDown. Look at how the Islamic State is using social media. Look at the propaganda war between Israel and Gaza. They’re all real and meaningful and important, and deserving of serious-minded journalism.
What is the relationship between fltr and BJP?
We’re BJP’s little up-start brother. We’re a bit younger, a bit harder. The British Journal of Photography has been operational since 1854, and the magazine rightly has a sense of obligation to that tradition. We’re a photography magazine for the connected generation.
How is the content selected and curated? Is it themed?
We are thematic, but it’s not an exact science to be honest. We publish great, creative, modern photography, and we look at changes in the mobile sector from a technological point of view, but we’re issue-led. As the editor, that’s important to me.
fltr’s a weekly magazine, and that allows us to adapt and respond to what’s happening out there. I watched footage of Ferguson this week, and my Twitter stream was coursing with this remarkable imagery, so we decided to ditch everything planned and focus on that in a big way. We’ve taken the most iconic mobile imagery from the event, arranged it chronologically, and got a top journalist to contextualise it. I can’t see this kind of content appearing anywhere else.
Is there still a stigma around mobile photography do you think?
Less and less, but yes there is. There’s always resistance to new media; always has been, always will. I you want to know what’s really going on, if you’re looking for current, uncompromised, sharp-cornered culture, then look at how people are using mobile photography.
What were the inspirations and reference points for the design of the app? What did it need to do?
The BJP was the main inspiration, for the way it navigated the shift to digital publishing while retaining a clean, spacious, image-led and intuitive design ethos. We hope we designed an app that is easy to use and reflects the way people instinctively navigate their mobile devices.
What is the favourite story you’ve covered so far?
An unusual story, but we contacted two girls now in recovery after suffering from depression, anorexia, suicidal tendencies and a compulsion to self-harm who shared their scars with online communities. If you go onto any social media platform, it’s easy to find these communities. They’re right there, just below the surface, and they’re thriving. Yet it’s still a taboo, something that people don’t really acknowledge. We spent a lot of time reporting on the subject in a responsible and sensitive way, but I’m proud we talked openly about an issue that impacts on a lot of people.
How do you hope fltr might develop in the future?
I hope we can continue to build a community of people around the magazine, and fltr will become less of a transactional publishing exercise and more of a forum for everything connected to mobile photography. That’s what I spend my time thinking about, and I’m very open to ideas so get in touch!
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